The 7 stages of financial chemistry: a guide to essential money conversations

Mar 1 2022, 9:07 pm

At the start of a relationship, when sparks are flying and the connection is undeniable, money is often the last thing we think about — but financial chemistry is just as important as that strong initial bond.

Over the past two years, Canadians have had the opportunity to reassess their relationship with money. The initial economic shutdown caused by the pandemic directly affected 5.5 million workers and prompted many to pursue a saving mindset, while others adjusted their spending habits upon realizing the unpredictability of the world we live in.

“When you think about the pandemic, I think a lot of people’s values are shifting,” Principal, Financial Literacy at Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada), Li Zhang, tells Daily Hive. “As individuals grow, you’re going to find that your values and priorities can change over time.”

When people don’t share these changes, “that’s where conflicts will arise.” Couples can then lose a treasured spark in their relationship because they are no longer on the same page — something that “boils down to [a] lack of communication.” To help couples and individuals take steps to avoid this, Zhang shares the financial chemistry conversations to have at every stage of a relationship.

Dating and determining your make or breaks

While it might not seem like it, the start of a relationship is actually the ideal time to discuss your financial habits broadly and find your financial love language, whether that involves exchanging gifts, thoughtful words, or enjoying experiences, and how this complements your current financial situation.

Zhang notes that in a world dominated by social media, there can be a lot of “embarrassment and shame” when we look at the “glossy lifestyles” of others versus our own and what we can afford, “even though that may not be our value.” Financial pressures play a role in this, too.

“When you look at factors around dating, [it’s] all about figuring out your compatibility. And it’s the same for money,” she says. “What’s important to understand is that your partner isn’t you. You’re going to find that their relationship with money will be different than yours, so there has to be a level of compassion and compromise to understand where that’s coming from.”

If one person is a saver and the other is a spender, those are “opposing ideals” and could harm the longevity of that relationship. However, Zhang says what determines a “make or break” for each one of us is different.

It’s getting serious

At this point in a relationship, each partner can share their money habits in more detail, discuss their financial priorities, and open up the conversation around debt. Getting to this point isn’t always easy, though, as Zhang notes how “money can be a really uncomfortable topic.”

One way to get the conversation flowing is by tying it to current events, whether discussing inflation, the housing market, or financial periods like RRSP deadlines. “Use that as an opening and then dive a little deeper and peel that onion to make that conversation a little easier and approachable.”

When exploring your lifelong goals or aspirations, she says you can ask questions like, ‘In this partnership, what would that look like? How would we afford it?’ Beyond that, be open about carrying debt if this applies to you. “And if it’s your partner, be compassionate about it.”

Zhang adds, “I think being vulnerable helps to chart a path forward as a couple. And really, isn’t that the point of building a life together? In the good times and the bad — to communicate about both.”

Moving in together

When you’re past “the honeymoon stage” of a relationship, moving in together is often the next step — a time when you and your partner will explore whether you want to rent or buy a home and get a plan in motion.

Zhang tells us a “cohabitation agreement” is something couples can consider at this point. “After a few years, your partner may be entitled to a portion of your assets. You probably worked hard to get to where you are. And if you break up, you might end up with a lot less than just losing your potential life partner.” Exploring a cohabitation agreement is a way of “insuring your future, irrespective of what might happen in that relationship down the road.”

Ahead of moving in together, couples can discuss how they want to split household costs and larger repayments, too. “Some like to have their own personal accounts separate, and then they have a joint account that they fund every month that all the big costs would go through [or] shared costs come out of,” notes Zhang.

Other couples prefer to share everything in one joint account, and that works best for them. “It has to go back to what your values are.”


After getting engaged to the love of your life, there’s something to consider that might easily be overlooked: a marriage contract. “What we’ve seen is young people who are either on the verge of marriage, or have been married recently, have been talking about it,” says Zhang.

“In this case, you look at a family inheritance (there could be something that is coming to either partner later on in life), you look at custody of [your] children, pets, existing assets like the matrimonial home, or if you have retirement or pension accounts with work.”

Although this contract can happen at any time, Zhang suggests doing it “as early as you can and under circumstances that you don’t feel pressured or stressed about making those decisions.” She adds, “I would say don’t cheap out; have separate lawyers because marriage contracts can be tricky [in] that they can be annulled. It’s important to do it right.”

Preparing for your wedding

In the run-up to what will be one of the best days of your life, there are several things you can review with your partner on the financial side, from looking at how you’ll be paying for the wedding to the option of monetary wedding gifts.

“As you prepare for your wedding, try not to discount your future self by splurging on the big day. Because what it means is if you spend it today, you can’t have something later on. That doesn’t mean you need to have a thrifty wedding,” says Zhang, “it’s understanding what is essential to you to have the perfect day.”

She continues, “I think also looking at ways you can crowdsource from family and friends; I feel that’s been successful for a lot of my friends who’ve gotten married. I see a great trend [in] that they can help support the wedding in different ways, like having some of your crafty friends DIY the party favours, as an example.”

Children and pets

Planning for the next generation is going to look a little different for everyone, but there are considerations to keep top of mind.

“When you look at how you’re going to afford pets and children, I think you need to understand what those start-up costs are,” says Zhang. For children, you’re looking at your income on leave (whether your employer will top up your basic EI payments or not) and childcare. “Childcare is one of the highest, ongoing costs that comes up early, and understanding how you’re going to overcome those steeper expenses is important,” she notes. “Even with quality, subsidized programs, like the current one in Quebec and others being rolled out across the country, this will continue to be an expense to keep in mind.”

“On the side of planning for your children to be good money managers, I always say don’t make money awkward. Talk about it openly, so your kids can learn from you — the good, the bad, and the ugly. Because if you avoid talking about money entirely as a topic, your children will do the same.”

Meanwhile, “costs of pets are quite high,” and they need to be factored into the household budget. This can extend to specialty diets for your pet, veterinarian bills, pet insurance, and groomer fees. If you live in a condo and you’re busy at work, perhaps you might need to use a dog walking service — something that’s worth thinking about ahead of time.

Estate planning

couple signing forms


When it comes to estate planning, Zhang says most individuals will look into this when they hit a major life event.

Regardless of where you are in a relationship or if you’re single, the financial literacy expert says it’s worth noting “certain things are less expensive when you’re younger.” Life insurance is one example: “it is much cheaper to get when you are healthy and young, and those premiums will increase over time. The earlier you think about what your needs might be as a family, the cheaper it is in the long run.”

Another important aspect is “looking at end-of-life estate [planning] holistically,” notes Zhang, in terms of financial aspects and health aspects. That way, “when you’re not able to advocate for yourself, your family and loved ones know exactly what your wishes are. They don’t have to guess, [and] it’s way less stressful and way less emotional for them.”

As we come to the end of our interview, Zhang shares a reminder that money doesn’t have to be complicated or scary. “Each of us is capable of getting a better handle on our finances, and it’s about those small incremental changes.” Putting away as little as $10 or $25 a paycheque and “being consistent” is a great place to start.

If you’re curious to learn more, visit the CPA Canada financial literacy website here, where you’ll find tools, books, resources, and live sessions to help you on your financial journey.

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